Phoenix Jones: Real-Life Superhero or Misguided Vigilante?

The Rain City Superhero Movement (image: Metro News,

Most of what I treasure about the superhero genre are the symbolic meanings and mythological wisdom embedded within it.  And while I love comic books and comic-related material, there’s definitely no mistaking them for anything resembling realism.  This goes even for something as dark and somber as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy.

But, as we know, life loves to imitate art and sometimes the lines between fantasy and reality can be blurred to surreal effects.

The Rain City Superhero Movement (RCSM) is an organization of citizens based in Seattle who patrol the streets as a neighborhood crime patrol.   There’s nothing new or different about this in itself.  Many neighborhoods have citizen-led crime watches.  But the role of citizen-based crime watches that work in cooperation with local law enforcement is normally limited to witnessing and reporting.

The RCSM are different, first of all, in that they actually intervene in crimes in progress, not just witness and report.  So far this intervention has mostly been of a preventive nature:  thwarting a group of muggers from robbing a blind manstopping a man from drunk driving, preventing a bus from being jacked, etc.

The second unique thing about the RCSM is that they wear costumes, inspired by and modeled after – you got it – superheroes.  And they have aliases to match like the Green Reaper, The Mantis, Gemini, and No Name.

The nominal leader of the group is Phoenix Jones who began his crime-watching activities after he himself became a victim to a crime and then later also witnessed his friend being assaulted outside a bar.  Just like in a Daredevil or Batman comic.

Phoenix Jones (image: Metro News,

Now, we could get into a whole discussion here about whether a neighborhood watch organization wearing costumes and adopting superhero names is a clever, publicity-shrewd appropriation of pop cultural semantics or just taking comic book symbolism a little too literally.  Personally, I’m prepared to make arguments for both viewpoints, but let’s focus for now on the group’s crime-prevention activities.

Their activities have so far been legit, legit enough so that although the RCSM has had an occasionally tense relationship with the Seattle Police Department (Jones was once arrested and promptly released), there have been no major problems.  Nothing like the vigilante persecution that we see in the Spider-Man or Batman comics and movies.   The police, nevertheless, have publicly stated that they would rather that the RCSM stick with observing and calling 9-1-1 rather than put themselves in potential danger or cause a PR mess.

(image: source unknown)

This relationship could become more ambivalent, however, with a recent incident involving Jones in which the situation quickly went from neighborhood watch to something out of The Dark Knight Rises. Although all the members have martial arts or military backgrounds, to their credit they had evaded direct physical violence by backing off, running away or warding off potential aggressors with the threat of pepper spray or stun batons.  Until just recently.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, Jones and a couple of his cohorts had broken up a potentially violent altercation and had called the police when a group of men involved in the altercation begin following and taunting them.  It appears that Jones and his friends, after waiting for the police to arrive, try to walk away and repeatedly ask the men to do the same.  But the men persist in their taunting and threats even after the police have arrived.

Perhaps having reached his threshold of verbal abuse, Jones then invokes a clause from Washington-state law that states that two consenting adults may legally engage in an unarmed fight which ends the moment one combatant goes down.  And he asks his verbal aggressor if he’d like to engage in such a match.  Yes, it appears to be a real law and as can be seen in this video, the police even stand by and let it go down.

Now I’ll admit it’s gratifying to watch an obnoxious punk get what he asked for, but this latest incident does raise some important questions.  Legally legitimate or not, by even making the offer to fight, was Jones overstepping an already tenuous line?  Those officers might have allowed the fight but what would their superiors or the PR Department think?

Jones speaks for himself here in his own blog post about the incident.


An even broader question that is being debated among citizens in Seattle and beyond is this:   Is the self-proclaimed real-life superhero Phoenix Jones providing a genuine community service or is he a well-intentioned but misguided cosplayer at best?  Is he a good or dangerous influence to children who look up to costumed superheroes?

Share your thoughts by clicking an answer in the poll and then adding your comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below!

About The Pop Mythologist

The Pop Mythologist
The Pop Mythologist is the founder and editor of He has been a staff writer for the nationally distributed magazine KoreAm , the online journal of pop culture criticism Pop Matters and has written freelance for various other publications and websites.


  1. I didn't get a chance to read the whole post yet, but can I just mention right away how awesome it is that Seattle apparently has a super hero? Makes me proud to call Washington my home state!

    • Kristin,
      Yes, that's right, isn't it? Phoenix Jones and the Rain City Superhero Movement are indeed of your home state!
      I wonder if you'll run into him while you're back home this December. Haha. You better not commit any crimes. 😉

  2. Enjoying your themes, I wish I had more time for them! Also posted a direct response to your comment on my GoingTitsUp blog at… x

    • Carole, your first priority should be taking care of yourself and getting better so that you can keep doing wonderful things to help people. So no worries about not being able to stay on top of all my rambling! I read your response and responded back again. Thank you for your support and congratulations again on your recent feat on behalf of charity. Quite worthy, I think, of a superheroine. Up, up and away!

  3. I think these guys are cool, so long as they have their heads in the right place. I agree that this last incident seemed like a step too far, and Phoenix Jones should be careful not to use his fighting ability as his way of resolving a problem (when a friend of mine got her Taekwondo belt, she had to make an oath that she wouldn't use her fighting capacity unless absolutely necessary).

    Also, it reminds me of a programme by journalist Louis Theroux about vigilante groups in South Africa. Some of these groups had so much anger against the criminals that once, when a man had ALLEGEDLY (not proven) stolen a cell phone, they beat the guy to a pulp and then burnt him.

    This is of course an extreme case, but it does give us an example of how things can be taken too far. I think RCSM should remember the famous Spiderman quote: "With great power comes great responsibility".

    • I have a gravatar account? Huh, fancy that. Anyway, this is Delia by the way.

    • Shhh! Holy Gravatar! Don't give away your secret identity, Moon Cup Kid!

    • Well, it's the Moon Cup Kid! Taking a break from your adventures in, um…good hygiene? (lol).

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Delia. Yes, I can really understand the temptation to fight in this case, and it obviously wasn't an easy situation. But defending yourself when attacked is one thing. Citing a legal loophole and offering to fight is another, no matter how big a dirtbag the other guy is. When that guy in the orange shirt wakes up from his K.O. nap, he's not going to be suddenly cured of his stupidity and hate. He's going to hate even more, and he'll probably take it out by bullying some other poor guy. And that goes against the RCSM's professed desires to help make Seattle a safe city. To maintain their legitimacy, Phoenix and the RCSM need to draw a line with self-initiated violence.

      Not to make light of this but since comic books do illustrate important lessons in fun and easy ways, Batman, for instance, never uses a gun and never kills if he can help it even though he has faced that temptation many times, especially where a homicidal maniac like the Joker is concerned. The South African vigilante groups may be an extreme example, but they are a perfect illustration of good intentions spiralling out of control. And, yes, the famous Spider-Man quote is, as ever, pertinent here as well.

      Other than that, in general, I respect these guys for caring about their community enough to at least try and do something as they know how. It's always easy to criticize. It's harder to ask ourselves, "So what are *we* doing then?"

  4. Really do like this article. As one of the few Real-life Superheroes (RLSH) that operated in and around the greater Seattle area before Mr Jones came on the scene I can say that his campaign to raise awareness of street crime has been a good and bad thing. Good that his meteoric rise in popularity has guided thousands if not millions to the movement that is RLSH and to make the general public, especially those in Seattle to wake up and realize that if you, "See something, Say something" Bad in the aspect that since he has become so popular hes become a target for hate and divisiveness inside the community that is RLSH. His wife's campaign against domestic violence via the Purple Reign Campaign is also worthy of note… here was an issue that is underneath society's range and a superhero woke them up to see that people need to be made aware. Im glad to call Phoenix a friend and colleague.

    • Hi, Skyman, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, Phoenix's popularity has certainly brought more attention to the RLSH movement, which is a good thing. It's too bad, though, that it also becomes a basis for divisiveness within the RLSH community itself. But I guess that's almost inevitable. Even if a group of community activists all adopt superhero identities and costumes, they could all have different ideals and philosophies. Again, the lines of fantasy and reality being blurred: In the comics, superheroes are often fighting each other, usually due to clashing ideals and beliefs. Avengers vs. X-men, etc. They're both good but they have different ideas of *how* to be good.

      The Purple Reign Campaign is also very noteworthy, yes, and thank you for bringing it up. It has less potential for street drama and therefore maybe slightly less popular among fans, but here the battle is more symbolic than literal. Sometimes, there might be a need for literal fighting, true, but personally I believe the world has enough of that already. We need more symbolic battles being waged and for that I salute Purple Reign and her brave crusade.

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